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How Nigerians spread misinformation: an analysis of IPOB trends in Nigeria

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In November 2018, the British Broadcasting Commission (BBC) released a study that implicates Nigerians as common prey to fake information because  they’re concerned about “not falling behind on the news.”  

The research outlined that the media space is  flooded with misleading stories, and  the eagerness to share such materials without proper verification may have a fatal consequence. Even so,  the several pictures and videos altered  to fit right into a topical situation puts users and unsuspecting members of the public at more risk than before, especially when some of such contents are designed to deceive certain members of the society into believing a narrative that is totally false and linked to a possible consequence capable of causing a crisis in the country. 

An apparent case is a trend of misinformation spread around activities of the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB). A timeline of claims shared around the secessionist group presents a plethora of both propaganda and misleading contents with dangerous consequences. 

While some of them garnered little or no public attention, a number of them trended on the social media space. 

Noticeable trend of misinformation around IPOB activities  

The  Indigenous People Of Biafra  (IPOB) was founded in 2014 under the sole leadership of  Nnamdi Kanu. The group is clamouring for an independent country carved out from the south-east of Nigeria, which is largely made up of the Igbo ethnic group. 

Since then,  the group has been active in  social media spheres and topical on the mainstream media. This turn of events has also ushered in an influx  of several claims that have misled thousands of audiences.

In September 2020, a collection of pictures were shared  on Twitter (@Biafralandtwt_1) that depicted a sophisticated news studio. Allegedly, the pictures were said to be of a news studio acquired by IPOB in South Africa. However, after a careful analysis of the pictures,  they were found to be that of studios owned by Al Jazeera and an American news company, ‘The Hill’. 

Picture of IPOBS’s  alleged news studio shared on Twitter

The claim not only trended on the social media space but also attracted multiple comments of consent from some users. “This is superb. Biafra has done what no Nigerian media can do. Just imagine if they are allowed to go.” @j-storg_ commented on Twitter. 

Again, in February 2021, one @AzubuikeOnovo  posted  a picture of a wrecked aircraft on Twitter  with an affixed narrative that the Eastern Security Network (ESN), the security arm of IPOB, was responsible for  downing the plane. This post got over 500 retweets, 653 likes, and steered a heated conversation in the comment box. Like @stellaonyi in consensus said “One down…more to go…Ndi ala.”

Yet, after verification, results revealed that the photo of the crashed aircraft has been on the internet since 28 September 2018 and, in fact, it was Africa News which published it in a news article when two F-7Ni aircrafts of the Nigerian Airforce crashed in Katampe, Abuja. 

Screenshot of acclaimed wrecked aircraft 

In the same vein, a Facebook posted by Biafara news channel posted a picture that depicted six dead bodies of some men laid on the ground, circled  by a large crowd of spectators. The user alleged the dead men to be IPOB members slain by Nigerian soldiers.  However, when verified, findings revealed that  the picture was published on several websites and blogs in November 2017 when the  Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) killed six notorious kidnappers who were reportedly said to have abducted a woman in Cross River state.

Screenshot of Facebook post by Biafara News Channel

Claims around Nnamdi Kanu’s arrest 

Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of IPOB, was arrested in Nigeria on October 14, 2015, following years of campaigning for the sovereign state of Biafra. After almost two years of incarceration,  he was granted bail in April 2017, but fled the country soon after soldiers invaded his residence in Abia state during a military clampdown on IPOB members.

While on the run, the separatist leader piloted the affairs of IPOB from abroad until June 2021, when the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, announced the re-arrest of  Kanu, through the collaborative efforts of Nigerian Intelligence and Security Services. 

Malami said Kanu bridged the terms of his bail in 2017 and he was brought back to continue to face the trial for the 11-count charge filed against him. Kanu’s rearrest sparked reactions across the country and amidst this, a viral video surfaced on social media,  claiming that members of the IPOB have staged a mass protest against the recent rearrest of their leader, Nnamdi Kanu. The video depicted  IPOB members displaying Biafran flags and chanting war songs. 

Yet in reality,  it was a 2015 video that was re-circulated to sell a  new narrative around Nnamdi’s arrest.  The claim caused gridlock in Port Harcourt and almost aroused fear amongst unsuspecting members of the society.

These stories triggered a lot of reactions on the social media space. Social media users snapped on these claims and reshared the stories without a second thought. A good example is the Facebook  post by the former aviation minister, Femi Fani-Kayode, who shared the claim on  IPOB’s protest on his facebook page. The post garnered over 6,000 reactions with over 4,000 shares. 

Screenshot of Femi Fani-Kayode’s facebook post

The reality seems to sink in line with a study  which finds that 59 percent of all links shared on social networks are not actually clicked at all; implying  that the majority of articles re-shared are not actually  read by users. The study links this reason to why false claims circulate very fast since social media users only share interesting headlines without reading them.   

Yet, this reality not only showcases the ease with which false claims can spread but also the wide impact it may have on potential users. 

Conclusion

The spread of misleading information on social media and its impact on the target audience in Nigeria may be inimical to peace, unity and development. Evidently, most of the claims tied around IPOB  have never failed to garner wide traction  and, in the context of the Nigerian diverse and sensitive society, such claims are a ticking time bomb.  

The researcher produced this fact-check per the 2021 Kwame Karikari Fact-checking Fellowship partnership with JAY 101.9 FM Jos to facilitate the ethos of truth in journalism and enhance media literacy in the country.

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